It’s admirable as much as it is heart-breaking to see so many women sharing their stories and giving voice to such a prevalent issue. Given all of this discussion, it has been really disappointing to see a lack of male voices playing an active part in the discussion.
Unfortunately, when men are speaking out about this issue, their voices are often incredibly counterproductive. Some use the ridiculous ‘#notallmen’ in an attempt to belittle the issue. Men that use this hashtag are fundamentally misunderstanding the issue at hand, and show how far detached men are from the threat of sexual violence. Even when they contribute to the conversation, they use it as a mental exercise or a debate without really acknowledging just how serious it is, thus trivialising the trauma of so many women.
As men, we need to hold ourselves to a much higher standard
The discussion around male violence against women is not one that is trying to suggest that all men commit rape, and I would hope that men understand this. The hope is that rape culture can be tackled more openly than before. Women who are speaking out understand that rape culture does not start with rape: it starts with misogynist comments and jokes which leads to harassing behaviour and, in the extreme, rape. Men who assume that the discussion around Sarah Everard’s murder is only referring to rapists are attempting to distance themselves from responsibility. #notallmen displaces blame from men who are not rapists. They’re divorcing themselves from the issue and removing accountability for themselves. But that is simply not good enough. Is abstaining from sexually assaulting women really how low the bar is for men? We need to hold ourselves to a much higher standard.
Men need to understand that we have all been complicit in these patterns of behaviour. Rape doesn’t just come out of nowhere, and it’s not a natural response. It comes from a culture of rape and men need to recognise how we have contributed towards it. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling to know that we have likely all been involved in constructing the environment in which 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. But men need to become more aware of the impact that they can have on this subject. Women shouldn’t be having this conversation alone. Men need to get involved and actively work towards eliminating rape culture at the root. There needs to be more men calling their friends out on their misogyny. More men should notice how damaging their silence is.